Category Archives: Combat in Islam

– Sunnis Against Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)



Professor Sohail Hashimi says:

“So far, no systematic work has been done by Muslim scholars on how nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons relate to the Islamic ethics of war. This is an astonishing fact in light of the development of nuclear technology by several Muslim countries and the repeated use of chemical weapons by Iraq.”

Even more unfortunate, the acquisition of WMDs was and is a goal of al-Qa’eda. Militant preachers were quick to recognize and fill in this gap.

Osama bin Laden in a 1998 Time interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai made that crystal clear, in which Rahimullah asked bin Laden,

“The U.S. says you are trying to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons. How would you use these?”

Osama bin Laden responded,

“Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty. It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.”

In a 2001 interview by Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, Osama reiterated this support. In the same interview, al-Zawahiri boasted,

“If you have $30 million, go to the black market in central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states, and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs.”

Al-Zawahiri, known to be a braggadocio and manipulator, may have been overdramatic in this interview to stir fear in the masses. But his desire to acquire such weapons and harm the masses is real. It is to be noted that OBL explicitly advocated the possession of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. However, one need not have an explicit statement from OBL that advocates usage. OBL clearly believes that killing Muslim and non-Muslim civilians is permissible.

OBL and other militants have never specified a limit or threshold of how many innocent Muslims can be killed as “collateral damage” in such attacks, which makes the use of nuclear weapons (and other WMD) – or any other weapon for that matter – perfectly valid from the militant perspective. As long as such weapons are used on “infidels,” that is what matters, no matter how many Muslims are massacred in the process.

Addressing the matter of “collateral damage” of innocents from the Sunni point of view is therefore a key argument against militants who have a distorted understanding of the matter.  (The manipulation of al-Tatarrus by al-Qa’eda, the “law on the use of human shields,” is discussed in another post.)

Because of this surprising gap in knowledge, and perhaps induced by al-Qa’eda’s repeated desire to acquire WMD, extremists capitalized on this by filling in the gap and producing perhaps the first in-depth “fatwa” on WMD in 2003 that “justified” its use from a militant perspective. The notorious pro-WMD fatwa was by the Saudi Wahhabi extremist, Nasir al-Fahd, who was a student of the late Hamoud al-Oqala al-Shu’aybi, who endorsed the September 11th 2001 attacks. Two other extremists of the “Shu’aybi school,” Ali al-Khudair and Ahmed al-Khaldi, also endorsed the pro-WMD fatwa. Though they later recanted, surely by pressure from Saudi authorities, militants nevertheless found the justification they needed for the use of WMD.

This was reflected in al-Zawahiri’s  Exoneration where he took from Nasir al-Fahd’s so-called fatwa and expanded on it to ensure that any use of such weapons was completely justified Islamically:

“Nasir al-Fahd’s 2003 fatwa is built in its entirety into Exoneration: the same ideas, thoughts, examples and scholars to justify equal retaliation—“repaying like for like”. The similarities between the two texts are nothing short of striking. Virtually every single cleric, scholar, and example used by al-Fahd to justify the use of WMD has been resurrected in near-symmetry throughout “Exoneration”. While a handful of the same individuals were cited by both al-Fahd and Zawahiri to justify different issues, nearly 30 authors were identically sourced with correlating content. Indeed, Zawahiri tended to expand on the thoughts and ideas of al-Fahd by diving into a more comprehensive justification with even further citations.”

(Source: Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. (January 2011). “Islam and the Bomb: Religious Justification for and Against Nuclear Weapons. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Kennedy School of Government. p.35.)

Mufti Ali Gomaa’s Fatwa Against WMDs

Fortunately, Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, gave a Fatwa against the use of WMD which can be used to counter al-Qa’eda and other militants.

Below are excerpts from a Fatwa by Mufti Ali Gomaa against the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(Beginning of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)

Recently, various sects and groups issued several publications asserting the permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against non-Islamic countries claiming that their allegetions conform to Islamic law. They substantiate their claims with proof from some juristic texts, and on analogy to turs [En. human shield], tabyīt [En. surprising the enemy at night] and tahrīq [En. killing with fire] mentioned in some books of Islamic jurisprudence.

Possessing these kinds of weapons to deter enemies is a requirement of Islamic law. This is evidenced by the words of Allah: “And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy”

In his interpretation of the verse, the luminary, al-Alusi, said: “Anything that can be used as a deterrence in war” [10/24 Dar al-Turath al-Arabi]. In the previous verse Allah commands Muslims to deter their enemies who may be inclined to attack Muslims. Apart from being a principle of Islamic law that factors in punishments and disciplinary actions, deterrence is also a legitimate political principle sanctioned by states in their defense policies and established in military strategies.

It is well known that acquiring and possessing WMDs creates strategic and military bal- ance between states and serves to deter any state that is tempted to launch a hostile attack against a Muslim country therefore preventing them from being dragged into an undesired war. This applies to acquiring WMDs and using them to deter enemies and oppressors. There is a difference between acquiring these weapons to deter potential aggressors and between initiating their use.

The scenario of initiating the use of WMDs which is based on the personal reasoning and opinions of individual sects, factions, and groups is prohibited by Islamic law. Any opinion that maintains its permissibility or attributes it to Islamic law and its scholars is a false claim and accusation against [sacred] law and religion. This is substantiated by the following:

The decision to declare war

The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare wars and hold domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims. He declares a war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical specialists, military personnel, and political consultants who are indispensable in the military strategy.

A person or persons who independently determine the use of WMDs not only impose their opinion on their rulers but on the entire [Muslim] community. They give themselves the right to make decisions relating to the destiny of the entire community without recourse to ahl al-hall wal-’aqd [En. those who are qualified to elect or dispose of a ruler on behalf of the Muslim community] in matters that expose the country or people to great dangers.

Breach of international agreements and treaties

Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they acknowledged and entered into on their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries.

Using WMDs involves killing people and taking them by surprise

Abu Hurairra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing”. Ibn al-Athir said: “Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared” [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775]. The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet’s words: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise” is a clear prohibition since it involves deception. Khubayb al-Ansarī (may Allah be pleased with him) was captured by the polytheists and sold in Mecca to Banī al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir ibn Nawfal ibn abd Manāf. It was Khubayb who killed al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir in the battle of Badr. He remained a prison- er with them for some time. Once, he asked the daughter of al-Harith for a razor to shave and placed her son on his lap. When she came upon this scene and saw Khubayb holding the razor in his hand and her son on his lap, she became scared. Thereupon, Khubayb said to her: “Are you afraid that I might kill him? I will never do that.” She said: “I never saw a captive better than Khubayb.” This is an example of a Muslim imprisoned by his enemies who plotted to kill him. In spite of being on the verge of death, he refrained from killing their son when he had the opportunity to do so. The manners of a Muslim are free from deception and killing others by surprise.

Killing and harming women and children

Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet. There- upon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: “The messenger of Allah forbade killing women and children.” Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight [the Muslims]. If they do, the majority of scholars maintain that they should be killed” [Sharh Muslim 12/48].

Killing and harming Muslim residents of the target countries

Targeting other countries with WMDs will endanger the lives of Muslims residents, natives or visitors. The noble Shari’ah honors the life of Muslims and warns against shedding their blood without right. Allah Almighty says: “But whoever kills a believer intentionally—his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” [Al-Nisa`]

On that account: We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one kills a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people [Al-Maeda. Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that the Prophet said: “The perishing of this world is easier in the sight of Allah than taking a Muslim’s life” [Sunan al-Nassa’i].

The ramifications of using WMDs

Such a foolish act will bring about catastrophes not only upon Muslims but upon the entire world because the countries under attack may retaliate either in kind or in a more brutal manner. Moreover, the destructive effects of some of these weapons may exceed the targeted area and spread by wind to other countries not involved in the conflict. Hence, the immedi- ate and far reaching evils of WMDs are greater than the benefits, if any. It is worthy to men- tion at this point that preventing harm is among the principles of Islamic law. This is based on legal maxim, “Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining benefit.”

Consequences of using WMD

Some of these weapons damage individual and public properties, wasting wealth which is forbidden by Islamic law. The prohibition is greater if the wasted wealth belongs to the oppressed. Thus, this prohibition lies in violating Islamic law on the one hand and the rights of others on the other.

The use of some of these weapons may require the perpetrator to enter the target

Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country.

Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: “Whoever enters enemy lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money.” Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudāma said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion. [Al-Mughni 9/237].

The legal and juristic texts used as evidence to spread this extreme idea are taken out of context. Using these texts in such a manner disturbs peace, ignoring the differences between states of war and peace, and the special rulings pertaining to each of them. This is a compel- ling difference that is inconsistent with using WMDs weapons based on textual evidence on the permissibility of tabīt and ramy al turs. It is a grave mistake to make this analogy even though they are valid in themselves within the context cited by the authors of these texts. It is dangerous to take these rulings from their context and apply them to different situations. Moreover, it is impermissible to derive a ruling permitting the use of WMDs against an op- pressor based on analogy since it is established that there is a difference between the rulings for repelling an aggressor and those of jihad [En. fighting for the cause of Allah]. These in- clude repelling the aggressor by the least violent means. If it is possible to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner, it is prohibited to use weapons against the aggressor. Using WMDs against others is not consistent with Islamic values.

It is invalid to base the permissibility of using WMDs on analogy [Ar.qiyās] to tabyīt, using the catapult, or tahrīq

There are great and manifest differences between the two situations. The prophetic traditions mentioned on tahrīq, tabyīn, and the catapult were narrated in a state of war; there is a differ- ence between a state of war and peace. There is a great difference in the effects of throwing stones at the enemy using the catapult and between using WMDs. The effects of the catapult are relatively restricted as compared to the effects of WMDs. The above methods of warfare mentioned in the prophetic traditions were conducted with the approval of rulers. Giving a person, [other than a ruler], the right to declare war is a crime against the [Islamic] community and its rulers under the pretext of jihad.

Even if we assume the authenticity of these prophetic traditions, we must note that they refer to specific incidents and cannot be put into general practice. For this reason, some scholars maintained that the principle [in war] is to avoid tabyīt, tahrīq, and destruction; they base their opinion on the general religious texts which discuss the ethics of war.

Our opinion is that WMDs that cause fires must not be used due to the prohibition of burning. After ordering his troops to use fire, the prophet forbade its implementation as a weap- on even though the Muslims were in a state of war. Abū Hurayrah narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: “Allah alone has the right to punish with fire” [Bukhārī]. It is known that many WMDs cause huge fires, therefore it is better to ban their use even in a state of war.

It is a mistake to base the issue of the use of WMDs on tabyit because scholars restricted its permissibility by the following: It must be implemented in a state of war. The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and hon- or. If it is prohibited to attack under the cover of darkness the enemy with whom Muslims have a security pact, then it is even more prohibited to use such lethal weapons against them.

Human Shields

It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughni ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10].

(end of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)

– Al-Tatarrus: Al-Qa’eda’s Manipulation of the “Law on Using Human Shields”.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Al-Qa’eda and other militants manipulate the issue of human shields in Sunni Islam to justify their killing of masses of civilians. It is well-known that most of al-Qa’eda’s victims have been civilians. Their claim that such “collateral damage” is necessary belies the Sunni tradition they claim to follow.

Using classical Sunni sources, Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, said,

“It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists.”
[Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughni ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10]

Classical Sunni jurists differed in their understanding of what these “conditions” were. Regarding “Muslim individuals, in general, or Muslim prisoners of war, or individuals from ahl al-dhimmah (non-Muslim citizens of the dar al-Islam), or any individuals” living in countries that have peace accords, Ahmed al-Dawoody in The Islamic Law of War (p.117) says, in regards to targeting them in a legitimately sanctioned war against the enemy:

“al-Awza’i, the Maliki jurists, al-Lu’lu’i, Abu Thawr, al-Layth, and Ahmed ibn Hanbal, it is impermissible to attack the enemy if they take as human shields Muslims, dhimmis, or any individuals who belong to a country which which Muslims have a peace accord.”

However, according to

“…the majority of… jurists, including Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf… and al-Thawri, advocate that it is permissible … to attack the enemy because of military necessity, provided that the Muslim army intends to direct its attack against the combatants and avoid the human shields.”

While Sunni jurists differ in their views of al-tattarus, their disagreements lay within the confines of their understandings of what constitutes a legitimate combative jihad. Many of these conditions, including having a ruler proclaim jihad, not killing civilians, having war between two armies (and not vigilante groups like al-Qa’eda) are violated by terrorists today. Therefore, the discussion of al-tattarus by terrorists is misplaced because it does not apply to the actions of terrorists who have violated conditions that are required for any discussion of al-tattarus and related aspects of war to take place. (Read this post to learn the differences between combative jihad and terrorism, and this post to understand how classical Sunni Islam is against terrorism.)

Moreover, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, the radical who was considered a religious guide to al-Qa’eda, and who had a fallout with al-Zawahiri, also spoke against al-Qa’eda’s methods in regards to human shields. In describing Sayyed Imam’s understanding of the matter, researcher Marwan Shehadeh, says:

“The second concept that Sayyed Imam criticizes is al-tatarrus, an important concept in the context of the combative jihadist doctrine of al-Qaeda and the violent jihadist Salafist movement. Al-tatarrus refers to enemy soldiers’ practice of using in­nocent Muslim civilians as shields directly or indirectly during confrontation, which entails, in cases of clashes with non-Muslim soldiers, killing the civilians. Historically, Muslims experienced al-tatarrus in many battles, and therefore scholars determined precise conditions for permitting the killing of shielded soldiers. They also obligated military leaders not to expand the application of this concept themselves, i.e. not to use non-Muslim civilians as shields for Muslim soldiers in order to preserve human life. Scholars classified al-tatarrus under the “necessities” that can only be resorted to in cases of absolute need. However, al-tatarrus has been greatly abused by contempo­rary jihadist groups who ignored most of the constraints and conditions that scholars agreed upon unanimously. Killings started to target innocent civilians without ob­serving those restrictions and conditions or considering the preventions that guard against the spilling of “protected” blood based on insubstantial excuses and argu­ments. Perhaps all post Sept. 11 bombings involved lack of commitment on behalf of these groups to the concept of al-tatarrus and its constraints.”

Abdullah Warius and Jarret Brachman were on the mark and in line with traditional Sunni Islam when they explained the twisted understanding of al-Tatarrus by al-Qa’eda, and how it contradicted the understanding of 14 centuries of Islamic scholarship:

“In the course of defending al-Qa`ida against charges of unjustly killing innocent Muslims during his April 2, 2008 “open interview,” Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri reintroduced Hukm al-Tatarrus (the law on using human shields) into the debate. A relatively unfamiliar term to non-Muslims and Muslims alike, al-Tatarrus refers to God’s sanctioning of Muslim armies that are forced to kill other Muslims who are being used as human shields by an enemy during a time of war. Al-Tatarrus is a religiously legitimate, albeit obscure, Islamic concept that al-Qa`ida ideologues have been increasingly using in order to exculpate themselves from charges of apostasy. The method in which al-Qa`ida is promoting al-Tatarrus, however, seeks to facilitate the sacrifice of Muslim lives in contravention of 14 centuries of religious teachings. For instance, both al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula and the al-Qa`ida Organization in Yemen hid behind the protections offered by al-Tatarrus in their justification of terrorist attacks that resulted in significant Muslim casualties.”

Warius and Brachman continue to explain in detail how Abu Yahya al-Libi manipulated the traditional Islamic understanding of al-Tatarrus to serve his own (read: al-Qa’eda’s) nefarious ends:

“Abu Yahya begins his theological upheaval by explaining that…early thinkers [of Islam] were not specific enough in their discussions on the use of human shields nor did they adequately articulate the conditions under which it is permissible to shed Muslim blood in the course of warfare against a non-Muslim enemy when they take Muslims as human shields. This perceived historical failure of the early scholars to deal with al-Tatarrus honestly and comprehensively, whether due to their fear or embarrassment, he says, has led to a condition wherein the unjustified spilling of Muslim blood has become pervasive.”

The authors then explain the arrogant rejection of al-Qa’eda of the law of al-Tatarrus through their selective and manipulative understanding of Sunni tradition:

“As if criticizing 14 centuries of Islamic thought on the matter was not enough, Abu Yahya decides to reject the premise, saying, “I have never seen [al-Tatarrus as an explicit concept] mentioned in hadiths of the Prophet or in the biographies of the fighting companions in this same particular way that scholars have expressed it.” By calling the conditions placed on al-Tatarrus by Islamic scholars something “new” (and thus an “innovation”), he grants himself the religious authority to not only reject the entire body of Islamic literature (and accompanying restrictions) on the killing of innocent Muslims, but he positions himself as the sole arbiter of what constitutes “permissibility” with regard to killing.”

They go on to explain how Abu Yahya al-Libi chose to omit what did not serve his agenda. Namely, incorporating the human body in al-Tatturus but omitting property:

“Abu Yahya’s essay contains several major oversights that one can only believe are intentional given the depth of his knowledge on the issue. The first oversight is regarding the fact that al-Tatarrus is not limited to the human body, but is commonly extended to the enemy’s use of Muslim property, including buildings, infrastructure and vehicles as a deterrent in times of war. Abu Yahya’s decision to leave out Muslim property becomes clearer when viewed in the light of his second major oversight: compensation for damage caused.”

The authors then discuss how the issue of “compensation” is completely ignored by militants:

“Most discussions of al-Tatarrus during the past 14 centuries include reference to the necessary compensation required by God for damage caused to Muslim lives, property or wealth. The most blatant evidence of Abu Yahya’s intentional avoidance of compensatory damages appears in the peculiar way that he cites the Qur’an, noting: “Never should a believer kill a believer but (if it so happens) by mistake.” Had Abu Yahya continued his quote to the next verse of the sura, he would have been forced to reveal it as,

“Never should a believer kill a believer but if it so happens by mistake, compensation is due: If one so kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased’s family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, is prescribe a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Allah: for Allah hath all knowledge and all wisdom.”

“As the above verse suggests, there are two general forms of compensation that are relevant to the al-Tatarrus discussion. The first is kaffara, defined as the atonement to God or repayment made for some failure to act, or harm done to another. It usually mandates that the one who spilled Muslims’ blood either fast for a period of time (usually one or two months) or serve charitable acts (such as serving 60 poor Muslims food for a period of time). The second form of compensation is diyya (blood money), which is a monetary compensation paid as a fine to the next of kin of someone who was killed intentionally.”

This, in a nutshell, is the approach of militants: manipulating Sunni tradition to justify their terrorist actions.

– Understanding Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

The Islamophobe, Patrick Sookhdeo, says,

“A basic precept of classical Islamic teaching divides the world into two kinds of territory, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam or “the house of Islam” consists of those areas under Muslim control. The rest of the world, which is under infidel (non-Muslim) control, is significantly known as Dar al-Harb, “the house of war.” This name is given to infidel-controlled areas because Muslims are obliged to subdue Dar al-Harb and turn it into Dar al-Islam.”[[i]]

Did classical Sunni Muslims understand the division of the world in this simplistic manner? The matter is more complex. It is therefore important to steer away from a bipolar, Muslim-versus-non-Muslim understanding of Islam.

Contemporary Sunni scholar, Zaid Shakir, explains this simplistic understanding.

“[T]he often-cited division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb fits well with attempts to explain the inevitability of a clash between Islam and the West.”

“However,” he says,

“it does not really give us an idea of the nuances and complexities of those terms, nor the diverse ways in which Muslim thinkers, over an extended period of time, defined and actually applied them.”

Shakir then provides examples of the various views of classical Sunni scholars. For example, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the two companions of Imam Abu Hanifah,

“viewed a land governed by the laws of the nonbelievers as constituting a land of disbelief, even if populated by Muslims.”


“Imam ash-Shafi’i viewed a land populated by nonbelievers who are not at war with the Muslims as not constituting Dar al-Harb.”

Shakir then says,

“Therefore, according to these definitions, most of today’s Muslim countries, which are governed by secular law codes, are not Dar al-Islam.”

Regarding most non-Muslim countries today that have peaceful relations with the Muslim world, they are not considered Dar al-Harb. Sookhdeo omits this from his understanding. Shakir says,

“To reinforce this point, let us ask…‘[w]ould Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two conservative nations that waged war against the Muslim nation of Iraq be considered Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Harb?’ Such questions reveal nuances that clearly weigh against the simplistic arguments being advanced by a growing wave of anti-Islamic polemicists and pundits and their Muslim ideological equivalents.”[[ii]]

Moreover, Imam Shawkani believed that land not ruled by Muslims can still be called Dar al-Islam provided that Muslims can practice their faith safely.[[iii]] Author Al-Dawoody also says,

“Present-day non-Muslim countries would…be classified as dar al-Islam according to Abu Hanifah’s definition […].”[[iv]]

Abu Hanifah’s ijtihad, or understanding of the Islamic sources, is followed by most Muslims today.

There are also many other divisions that the authors neglect to mention. For example, Dar al-Sulh, Dar al-`Ahd, Dar al-Muwada’ah (house of peace, house of covenant, house of reconciliation)[[v]] Of `Abd al-Rahman al-Haj, Al-Dawoody explains his view that

“classical jurists coined thirty-four conceptual divisions related the word dar, including dar al-muhajirin, dar al-hijrah, dar al-baghy, dar al-da’wah, dar al-dhimmah, dar al-riddah, dar al-shirk, and dar al-`Arab.”[[vi]]

He then concludes,

“It is…unfortunate that all these juridical political concepts are ignored, so that the Islamic worldview is oversimplified as one of perpetual war between Muslims and so-called infidels.”[[vii]]

Sookhdeo and others who hold this simplistic understanding are guilty of omitting the details of Sunni jurisprudence and misleading readers.

In addition, most Muslims today do not divide the world into two polar opposites. Scholar and author, Khaled Abou El Fadl, says,

“Many…books written by non-Muslim scholars in the West perpetuate the myth that Islamic law invariably dictates that the world should be divided into two abodes forever locked into conflict. Often the same books falsely assume that most Muslims today adhere to the same bipolar view of the world. This, of course, is not an accurate description of Islamic legal doctrine; moreover, it does not accurately describe the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of Muslims today.”[[viii]]

Islamophobes and “Islamic” militants would like to simplify a more complex matter.  Sunni Islam, however, has already discussed the complexities in its 1,000+ years long tradition.

[[i]] “Islam and Christianity: Why Muslims Dominate and Christians Suffer,” Patrick Sookhdeo, October 3, 2012, accessed June 2, 2013,

[[ii]] Zaid Shakir, “Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare,” New Islamic Directions, 2008, accessed May 27, 2013,

The original article can be read in  Shakir, Zaid. Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim: An Anthology of Essays. Hayward, Calif.: Zaytuna Institute, 2005. pp.121-141.

[[iii]]Ahmed Al-Dawoody. The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p.93.

[[iv]] Ibid., p.95.

[[v]] Ibid., p.93.

[[vi]] Ibid., p.96.

[[vii]] Ibid., p.96.

[[viii]] Khaled Abou El Fadl. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. pp. 230-231.

– Jihad and Terrorism: What is the Difference?

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Jihad in Classical Sunni Islam – an Overview

Muslims define jihad in Arabic as “holy struggle/effort.” An often neglected matter is the plurality of meanings of jihad in early Islam, which includes both combative and non-combative jihadJihad takes many forms, including controlling one’s anger, studying at school, supporting one’s family financially, and any other efforts in a Muslim’s life that contributes to good. Almost all manifestations of jihad are non-combative and far more numerous than the combative form, which consists of defensive and offensive jihad.

The first jihad in Islam was non-combative for the first 13 to 14 years, in spite of the oppression endured by Prophet Muhammad and his followers by the Meccans. The Grand Imam Mahmoud Shaltut said,

“The early Muslims spent many years in Mecca suffering the worst kinds of punishment, they were not free to worship, were persecuted for believing in a creed that brought them reassurance and were terrorised with regard to property and personal safety. All this continued until they were forced to emigrate.”

(Source: HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, Professor Ibrahim Kalim, Mohammad Hashim Kamali. War and Peace in Islam: The Uses and Abuses of Jihad. Chapter: “The Qur’an and Combat.”The Islamic Texts Society, p.9)

Muslims believe that permission to fight was granted after continued oppression by the Meccans after Prophet Muhammad and his followers emigrated to Medina from Mecca.

The Sunni View of Combative Jihad: Defensive and Offensive

Scholars from the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali) differ in their views of combative jihad. According to contemporary author and Al-Azhari professor, Ahmad al-Dawoody, the majority of religious scholars in the four Sunni schools view jihad as a defense against aggression:

“Qur’anic casus belli are restricted to aggression against Muslims and fitnah, that is, persecution of Muslims because of their religious belief (Qur’an 2:190; 2:193; 4:75; 22:39-40). War and coercion are not means by which religion may be propagated because belief in a religion is only a matter of the conviction of the heart (Qur’an 2:256; 10:99; 16:93; 18:29). Fighting non-Muslims solely because they do not believe in Islam contradicts the Qur’anic injunction (Qur’an 2:256).”[[1]]

The above position on combative jihad by classical Sunni scholars should not be taken lightly, especially in view of the distorted understanding that all Sunni scholars embraced the position of offensive jihad. This position illustrates that combat was only to be waged defensively in response to aggression.

To give a specific example of an early Muslim scholar in the time of the Salaf who supported defensive (and not offensive) jihad, author Mairaj Syed of Bard College in the book, Just War in Religion and Politics: Studies in Religion and the Social Order, in the chapter, “Jihad in Classical Islamic Legal and Moral Thought,” said that the eighth century Muslim scholar and ascetic, Sufyan al-Thawri,

“held that the duty of jihad becomes incumbent only in the case of enemy attack. For this reason fighting is a duty only for defensive purposes” (p. 147).

Syed then says,

“The implication of this view is that fighting for offensive purposes is not a religiously legitimate jihad” (p. 148).

While defensive jihad was a personal obligation, offensive jihad was a communal/collective obligation proclaimed by the ruler. The latter did not always mean perpetual warfare, but also meant, in certain situations, to be in a prepared state of battle. Other Sunni scholars like the Spanish Maliki scholar, Ibn `Abd al-Barr (978-1070), says Syed,

“held that the collective duty of jihad becomes incumbent only in the presence of fear (khawf). In conditions of security (amn), it is only a praiseworthy action (nafila), and not a duty. As such, in Ibn `And al-Barr’s conception, the omission of jihad in conditions of peace and security is not sinful” (p. 148).

According to contemporary author and scholar, Asma Afsaruddin, the plurality of meanings of jihad in Islam’s earlier years gradually narrowed in meaning to the combative form due to geo-political exigencies of the time:

“By the early Abassid period – roughly the mid-to-late eighth-century CE, second century of Islam – the military aspect of jihad began to receive greater emphasis in certain official and juridical circles.”[[2]]

In other words, the pacifist school of combative jihad seems to have been gradually overshadowed by the offensive jihad school when military matters mattered more. This is not to say that defensive jihad was non-existent at a later time. Syed mentions the sixteenth century Hanafi scholar, Ibn Nujaym, who

“seems to articulate an interpretation of jihad, as motivated solely by defensive considerations, that comes close to the view propounded by al-Thawri” (p.148).

Religious jurists who focused on military matters more used the Islamic sources and resorted to abrogation, believing that Qur’anic verses calling for combat abrogated the verses calling for peace. This view, however, was not shared by all scholars, and, contrary to Islamophobes, does not represent the view of the Muslim majority today.

War as Part of the Norm

Were only Muslims prone to war? Combative jihad was adopted through Islam’s history for various reasons, including spreading what Muslims believed was God’s word. War, however, was not unique to Islam and Muslims. The Muslim expansion in early Islam, as well as later wars, is to be understood in the context of the geo-political environment in those times. Professor David Dakake says,

“When Islam spread out of Arabia in the seventh century…warfare and conflict were the normal state of affairs between nations and peoples. The state of nearly constant warfare was simply the ‘way of the world’ and peace was the extraordinary and occasional exception to the rule.”[[3]]

Similarly, Georgetown University Professor, John Esposito, in his book Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, says,

“The world in which Islam emerged in the seventh century was a rough neighborhood where war was the natural state. Arabia and the city of Mecca, in which Muhammad lived and received God’s revelation, were beset by tribal raids and cycles of vengeance and vendetta. The broader Near East, in which Arabia was located, was itself divided between two warring superpowers of the day, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) and the Persian (Sasanin) Empires. Each had competed against the other for world dominion” (p.29).

Justification for war found religious justification as jihad in Islam, just as “Just War” was formulated to justify war in Christianity. Muslims were not unique in their times when it came to war.

Non-Muslims Under Muslim Rule

The promotion of combative jihad notwithstanding, this did not mean forced conversion. Contemporary scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, said,

“As for forced conversion, no reliable evidence exists that Muslims ever intended or attempted to impose the specific rites and beliefs of Islam. The histories of Central Asia, Spain, India, the Balkans and all of Southeast Asia are concrete proof of this” (p.61).

The norm, therefore, was to let conquered people practice their own religions. There were, however, aberrations from the norm that should not be described as the norm as Islamophobes frequently do. Mustafa Akyol says,

“with the exception of a few cases – such as the fanatic Almohavids in North Africa – forced conversion remained anathema to Islamdom.”[[4]]

Similarly, Youssef Courbage and Philippe Fargues in their book, Christians and Jews Under Islam, say,

“It is known that coercion, although it was occasionally used, was rare in the history of Arab Islam” (p.21).

Courbage and Fargues also say,

“There were some violent episodes, some spectacular explosions of popular fanaticism, but the state was almost never a persecutor” (p.24).

Other authors and historians have similar understandings. For example, historian Ira Lapidus says,

“…the Arab-Muslims did not, contrary to reputation, attempt to convert people to Islam. Muhammad had set the precedent of permitting Jews and Christians in Arabia to keep their religions, if they paid tribute; the Caliphate extended the same privileges to Middle Eastern Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, whom they considered ‘People of the Book,’ the adherents of earlier written revelations […].”[[5]]

Author Thomas Arnold says,

“These stupendous conquests which laid the foundations of the Arab empire, were certainly not the outcome of a holy war […].”[[6]]

Similarly, historian Marshall Hodgson says,

“There was no attempt at converting the peoples of the imperial territories, who practically adhered to some form of confessional religion already.”[[7]]

This, however, did not mean that non-Muslims under Muslim rule were living in bliss, but neither did it mean they were living under untold oppression – two extreme views that do not line with historical facts. They were not annihilated but tolerated. Christians and Jews, deemed “People of the Book” by Muslims, were permitted to practice their religion in their places of worship while paying a tax to receive exemption from joining the army and to receive full protection by the Muslim government in the event of an attack. In practice, protection by the Muslim state was not only offered to Christians and Jews, but also to followers of other religions, including Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Hindus.

“The poll-tax or jizya,” professor David Dakake says, “was required to be paid by the People of the Book to the Islamic state” and “unlike feudal taxation in Europe, did not constitute an economic hardship for non-Muslims living under Muslim rule.” He continues, “The tax was seen as the legitimate right of the Islamic state, given that all peoples – Muslim and non-Muslim – benefited from the military protection of the state, the freedom of the roads, and trade, etc.” Muslims also had to contribute. “Although the jizya was paid by non-Muslims, Muslims were also taxed through the zakat, a required religious tax not levied on other communities.”[[8]]

This, however, does not mean that all non-Muslims had to pay jizya under Muslim rule, as many people incorrectly understand. Mohammad Hashim Kamali in the book War and Peace in Islam: The Uses and Abuses of Jihad, in the chapter “Dhimmi and Musta’min: A Juristic and Historical Perspective,” says, “The contract of dhimmah that Muslim jurists later formalised was neither uniform nor well defined” (p.309). Kamali says on page-310:

“Early Muslim rulers have at times entered dhimmah agreements which eliminated the jizyah altogether — as in the agreement entered during the time of the second caliph `Umar with the Turkish tribe of Jarajimah which welcomed the Muslim forces and declared its dislike of the Romans, but stipulated that its members be allowed to remain Christian; this was agreed”

Kamali continues,

“The tribe also agreed to help the Muslims in the event of any military engagement with the Romans. The Muslim party agreed in return to protect the tribe and also relieved its members from payment of jizyah.”

Kamali then describes a similar situation when Muslims took over Cyprus:

“A similar example of a variant dhimmah arrangement was the peace agreement that the Muslims signed with the people of Cyprus, who did not offer resistance. In return the Muslim party agreed not to levy the jizyah on them.”

The Copts of Egypt were also exempt, according to Kamali:

“Another example of this was the agreement that `Amr b. al-As, Caliph `Umar’s governor, signed with the Copts of Egypt when his forces besieged and eventually conquered Egypt. There was no mention of jizyah in the treaty that was subsequently signed.”

Such nuances are important to understand to avoid simplistic generalizations of how Muslim rulers treated non-Muslims in history.

The Petering Out of Offensive Jihad

Offensive jihad or perpetual warfare was also not the preferred choice for rulers after a certain period. Author and scholar Khalid Blankenship says that wars became unsustainable over time, which  was partially responsible for the demise of the Umayyad state during the reign of Hisham ibn `Abd al-Malik. This led to a “permanent restructuring of Muslim political praxis away from a scheme of permanent warfare against non-Muslims, to one which came, over time, to include protracted truces, formal diplomatic relations, and, in the modern world, membership in the international community of nation-states.”[[9]]. Kamali in the previous section’s source says,

“There is … no dhimmah in the Muslim state of today, as it has to all intents and purposes been replaced by muwatanah (citizenship)…” (p. 311).

Non-Muslims Helped Muslims in Jihad

Islamophobes and “Muslim” terrorists portray a bipolar Muslim versus non-Muslim affair. However, Ian Almond, author of Two Faiths One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds, discusses the “under-reported phenomenon of Muslim-Christian military alliances,” including

“the thousands of Arabs who fought for medieval Christian emperors outside the walls of Milan and Bologna, the Castilians and Catalans who regularly allied themselves with Muslims to fight their Christian neighbors, the extraordinary level of Turkish co-operation in the last century of the Byzantine empire, the equally extraordinary number of Christian soldiers in the Ottoman armies which occupied the Balkans, and the tens of thousands of Hungarian Protestants, not to mention disaffected Hungarian peasants, who marched with the armies of the Turk on Vienna.”[[10]]

Similarly, Akyol says,

“local Christians…actively helped the Muslim conquests. When Byzantine-ruled Damascus was besieged by the Arab army in 634, the city’s Monophysite bishop secretly informed the Muslim commander, Khalid, that the east gate of the city was weakly defended, and he supplied the Muslim troops with ladders for scaling the walls.”[[11]]

Moreover, “Christian Arabs from tribes such as the Banu Tayyi of Najd, the Banu al-Namir ibn Qasit of the upper Euphrates river valley, and the Banu Lakhm participated in the jihad with the Muslim armies.”[[12]] It is important to note that many wars did not necessarily count as jihad, while many wars waged by Muslims were against other Muslims.

Caliphs Were Tolerated More Than Supported

While reasons for offensive jihad are debated by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, it has been established earlier that most of the caliphs who undertook combative jihad were not necessarily supported by the masses, and more than a few were not in line with Islamic teachings.

The collective actions of caliphs, therefore, should not be understood as the genuine expression of Islam. Moreover, the delicate relationship between the caliphs and religious scholars demonstrates more tension than collaboration. The religious scholars had the unenviable role of keeping the ruler in check and risking life and limb in the process. Religious scholars generally did not agree with the power-hungry goals of certain caliphs, but made decisions based on what they believed to be in the collective interests of the wider Muslim community.

Now that an overview of classical Sunni jihad has been provided, this section will compare the understanding and actions of militants today with combative jihad as understood and undertaken by classical Sunni Muslims of the past.

Jihad versus Terrorism

Advocacy of Peace Over War Today as the Norm

The geo-political context in the past hundreds of years has evolved. It is not the same as the time of Prophet Muhammad, or the time of the Crusades. Unlike most of the past 1,000-plus years, peace, not war, is generally the normal state of affairs today.

Even if offensive jihad occurred in Islam’s history, this does not mean most Muslims wish to promote combat today. Contrary to Islamophobes and “Muslim” terrorists, the Muslim majority is not interested in waging combat on others, but living peacefully like most of the world’s people.

“Gallup’s polling of Muslims worldwide determined that the vast majority of respondents (93 percent) belong to the mainstream who believe the 9/11 attacks were not justified.”

(Source: John L. Esposito. The Future of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. p.155)

This is not just the opinion of the Muslim masses, but also of prominent contemporary Sunni scholars. Several such scholars in a Peace Conference in Turkey in 2010 discussed how Ibn Taymiyah’s Fatwa of Mardin was misunderstood and misused by militants to wage violence. Among the conclusions of the New Mardin Declaration was a declaration of peace:

“The classification of abodes in Islamic jurisprudence was a classification based on ijtihad (juristic reasoning) that was necessitated by the circumstances of the Muslim world, then and the nature of the international relations prevalent at that time. However, circumstances have changed now: The existence of recognized international treaties, which consider as crimes wars that do not involve repelling aggression or resisting occupation; the emergence of civil states which guarantee, on the whole, religious, ethnic and national rights, have necessitated declaring, instead, the entire world as a place of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between all religions, groups and factions in the context of establishing common good and justice amongst people, and wherein they enjoy safety and security with respect to their wealth, habitations and integrity. This is what the Shari‘ah has been affirming and acknowledging, and to which it has been inviting humanity, ever since the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) migrated to Madina and concluded the first treaty/peace agreement that guaranteed mutual and harmonious co-existence between the factions and various ethnic/race groups in a framework of justice and common/shared interest. Shortcomings and breaches perpetrated by certain states that happen to scar and mar this process cannot and should not be used as a means for denying its validity and creating conflict between it and the Islamic Shari‘ah.”

These scholars did not advocate perpetual warfare against non-Muslims, but peace, in the current world of nation-states. Dakake reaffirms:

Today, in the modern world, the situation is somewhat reversed: we might say that ‘peace’ is generally the norm and warfare, although not exactly extraordinary, is somewhat less of a constant that it was in ancient times. This fact has led the vast majority of Muslim scholars today to declare that continual, offensive jihad is no longer applicable to the contemporary situation and that jihad today is primarily difa’i or defensive, because the world is itself in a different state from what it was in the seventh century.”

(Source: Joseph E. B. Lumbard. (ed.) Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom, 2009. pg.34)

Therefore, most “Muslim” countries today live peacefully with non-Muslim countries, and most casualties by Muslim attacks today – including al-Qa’eda attacks if they are even considered Muslim – are other Muslims.

This is contrary to the views of Islamophobes who allege that classical Sunni Muslims today support violent “jihad” in some form against non-Muslims, which they strangely consider a continuation of centuries of jihad of the past. To do so is to mix geo-political contexts, to fail to distinguish the nuances of both, and is analogous to judging Christians today by the geo-political context of Christians in the times of the Crusades.

Jihad today is not proclaimed by rulers, but by “Muslim” vigilantes

The minority of violent Islamists (“jihadists”) do not follow the rules of combative jihad in classical Islam. A ruler is not necessary for them to declare jihad, and they are not members of armies. There is no leader of a nation-state in the world today calling for an offensive jihad against any government or follower of other religions. 

Contemporary Pakistani scholar, Shaykh Tahir ul-Qadri, author of the most comprehensive Fatwa Against Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, said:

“Power to declare Jihad has been vested in the state and no non-state actor is allowed to do so in Islam. If it does … it would be nothing but massacre of humanity and revolt against the state”.

Shaykh Muhammad al-Afifi al-Akiti, another contemporary Sunni scholar, says the following in rebuttal to al-Muhajiroun, headed by the extremist, Omar Bakri Mohammed, who praised the 9/11 attacks:

“The upshot is, whether one likes it or not, the decision and discretion and right to declare war or jihad for Muslims lie solely with the various authorities as represented today by the respective Muslim states – and not with any individual even if he is a scholar or a soldier (and not just anyone is a soldier or a scholar) – in the same way that an authority (such as the qadi in a court of law: mahkama) is the only one with the right to excommunicate or declare someone an apostate [murtadd]. Otherwise, the killing would be extra-judicial and unauthorized.”
(Source: Aftab Malik (Editor). (2006). The State We Are In. Shaykh Muhammad al-Afifi al-Akiti. Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians. Amal Press. Pg.108)

Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, said,

“The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare wars and hold domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims. He declares a war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as techni­cal specialists, military personnel, and political consultants who are indispensable in the military strategy.”

Contemporary Sunni American scholar, Imam Hamza Yusuf, in a 60 Minutes interview by CBS on September 30, 2001, which also included other religious figures, responded to the interviewer’s question on Osama bin Laden’s declaration of jihad in the name of Allah:

“I would say that he has no legitimate authority, that in Islam, Jihad can only be declared by legitimate state authority. And this is accepted by consensus. There is no vigilantism in Islam. Muslims believe in state authority.”

Similarly, contemporary Sunni scholar, Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), head of the Cambridge Muslim College in England, said:

“A jihad can be proclaimed only by a properly constituted state; anything else is pure vigilantism.”

The fact that militant violence does not fall into the realms of a valid jihad, as they are not in a position to proclaim it, automatically renders all other “justifications” of so-called jihad by them irrelevant and misplaced.

Militants today do not protect places of worship

Militants today do not spare but target places of worship, including churches, Buddha statues, mosques, and even graves and tombs (especially of Muslim saints) that they see as places of “worship” by millions of Muslims worldwide. The Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Afghan Taliban, and radicals in Pakistan’s tribal areas are current examples. Early examples include attacks on shrines by Wahhabi armies.

Barring a few aberrations from the norm, this is in contrast to how Muslims preserved and protected the places of worship of non-Muslims throughout Islam’s history. In this respect, militants are very unlike early Muslims and follow the historical aberration instead of the norm.

For example, when an Umayyad ruler, Walid Abd al-Malik, claimed property that belonged to a church in Damascus and turned it into a mosque, Umar bin Abd al-Aziz instructed that the portion of the mosque be destroyed and returned to Christians.[[13]]

Commenting on the following Qur’anic verse, “And had God not repelled one group of people from another, the cloisters, synagogues, churches, and mosques in which God’s name is mentioned in abundance would have been ruined” (Qur’an 22:40), Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas quotes the famous Imam al-Hassan al-Basri:

“God uses the believers as a means of preventing the destruction of the places of worship belonging to the non-Muslim citizens.”[[14]]

Regarding non-Muslim places of worship, even Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyah, the loyal student of Ibn Taymiyah, says,

“God uses the believers to defend their places of worship….Moreover, it is obligatory for him [the believer] to defend their objects of worship, even though he detests them.”[[15]]

Militants today not only clash with classical Sunni tradition in this respect, but also oppose the words of controversial scholars whom they deceitfully claim to emulate.

Militants today kill innocent civilians

Militants today target armies and civilians, have described all of their violence as “defensive,” have invented their own rules  – for example, only combatants can speak on rules of combat  – and discard or selectively and deceptively use Sunni tradition to achieve their aims. Al-Dawoody says,

“Several hadiths attributed to the Prophet [Muhammad] prohibit targeting five specific categories of enemy noncombatants, namely, women, children, the aged, the clergy, and al`Asif (any hired man)” (p.111).

The above prohibitions on targeting noncombatants are in a legitimate state of war. The deduction is that human life is even more precious in the absence of war. Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon said,

“O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust.”

Conflicts today involving “Muslims” are usually against other Muslims – not non-Muslims. The majority of al-Qa’eda’s victims have been Muslim, in spite of their rhetoric of attacking the “infidel.” A 2009 study, Deadly Vanguards: A Study of al-Qa’ida’s Violence Against Muslims, by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, states:

“The results show that non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities. During this period, a person of non‐Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al‐Qa’ida attack than an individual from the West. The overwhelming majority of al‐Qa’ida victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al‐Qa’ida attacks than any other country courtesy of the al‐Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.”

In another post, Sunni and other scholars explain how al-Tatarrus, the “law on using human shields,” has been manipulated by al-Qa’eda and their likes to justify their massacres of civilians.

Militants demean and target religious scholars and knowledge

Scholar and author, Joas Wagemakers, says,

“There seems to be a growing trend among jihadis to view fighters as being the most credible Muslims to comment on jihad, in spite of their lack of scholarly credentials.”[[16]]

The lack of respect to religious scholars by militants has been seen by their utmost marginalization by even peaceful Islamists.

The opposition by militants to Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, well-known for his religious knowledge among extremist circles, illustrates the point. Scoffing at religious scholars, a central part of the militant outlook, elevates combat over belief, and ridicules Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, including:

“Scholars [of religious knowledge] are the inheritors of the Prophets.”[[17]]

He did not say that those who combat are the heirs of the prophets. Prophet Muhammad was also asked,

“`What is the best deed?’ He responded, ‘Belief in Allah and His Messenger […].’”[[18]]

Likewise, Islamists turn their backs on Sunni tradition by prioritizing politics over religion.

Many militants understand combat experience as a prerequisite to speaking about creed and other religious knowledge – a complete reversal of Sunni Islam that requires correct creed as a first priority and prerequisite to other Islamic practices. Prophet Muhammad also forbade targeting religious figures in a legitimate jihad. Abd Allah ibn Abbas said, “When the Messenger of Allah…would dispatch his troops he would say [to them], “Do not act treacherously, do not steal the spoils of war, do not disfigure the dead bodies, and do not kill children and priests.”[[19]]  This partially explains why Pakistani scholars today find it difficult to speak against terrorism waged by the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qa’eda. Their fate would be the same as Barelwi scholar, Sarfraz Na’eemi, and Deobandi scholar, Hassan Jan, who were killed by militants for speaking against terrorism, including suicide bombings.

Militants make combat a pillar of Islam

The first pillar of Islam, the Testification of Faith (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”) is replaced with so-called combative jihad as the first pillar, or is portrayed by militants as being a pillar of Islam. `Abd-al-Salam al-Faraj, for example, in “The Neglected Duty” appeared to see combative jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam.

However, jihad is not a pillar of Sunni Islam and never has been. Asma Afsaruddin says that “the Medinan scholar `Abdallah ibn `Umar, son of the second caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattab, is on record as having challenged those who had wished to elevate combative jihad to the level of a religious obligation. An Iraqi man came to Ibn `Umar and reproached him thus: “What is the matter with you that you perform the hajj and `umra but have abandoned fighting in the path of God (al-ghazu fi sabil allah)?’ To which Ibn `Umar responded, ‘Fie on you! Faith is founded on five pillars: that you worship God, perform the prayer, give zakat, perform the pilgrimage, and fast during Ramadan[…].”[[20]]

Militants kill ambassadors

Militants regularly target diplomatic institutions. This was seen in the recent 2012 attack at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed, along with several other diplomatic staff. Similarly, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked by militants in 1998. Countless examples abound.

Whereas militants target embassies, consulates, and foreign dignitaries, Abdallah bin Mas’ud, one of the closest Companions of Prophet Muhammad, and one of the first converts to Islam, said:

“It is an established Sunna that ambassadors are not to be killed.”[[21]]

It is also recorded in classical Sunni sources that when representatives of Musaylima, who claimed prophethood, visited the Prophet Muhammad as diplomats, Prophet Muhammad did not kill them or instruct others to kill them.[[22]] Author and scholar, M. Cherif Bassiouni, in his book, The Shari’ah and Islamic Criminal Justice System in Time of War and Peace, gave several other examples of diplomatic immunity granted by early communities of Muslims (p.187). For example, “…so great was the Prophet’s belief in the immunity of envoys that when Abu-Ra’fi, the emissary of Quraish, wanted to convert to Islam, the Prophet admonished him:

“I do not go back on my word and I do not detain envoys [your are an ambassador]. You must, therefore, go back, and if you still feel in your heart as strongly about Islam as you do now, come back [as a Muslim].”

Diplomatic immunity is seen in Prophet Muhammad’s exemplary treatment of a delegation from Ta’if in 9 AH/631 CE, in spite of their disrespect towards him:

“Earlier on, when the Prophet had gone to Taif to propagate Islam, the city’s residents treated him poorly. Despite their previously disrespectful conduct, the Prophet treated the Taif delegation with respect, further affirming that envoys were to be received in accordance with their privileged status, irrespective of their sending country or the nature of past relations with its people.”

Militants today do the opposite of what Prophet Muhammad and his companions did.

As illustrated above, to conflate the jihad of classical Sunni Islam with the violent actions of terrorists today, is to have an erroneous understanding.

Militants have inadequate capacity to fight

The Qur’an states,

“Now Allah has lightened your [task] for He knows that there is weakness among you. So if there are of you a hundred steadfast persons, they shall overcome two hundred, if there are a thousand of you, they shall overcome two thousand with the leave of Allah and Allah is with the patient” (8:66).

Terrorists, while violating many other conditions of a legitimate combative jihad, also ignore the condition of numbers in battle. Contemporary Sunni scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, says in his book, Jihad: Principles of Leadership in War and Peace (p.82):

“Thus Allah declared that if the ratio of Muslim warriors to their opponents is half (1:2) they may fight and they will be given Divine Support in an open fight facing the enemy directly, warrior-to-warrior. This was a reduction from the original ratio, in which the believers were obligated to fight even if the ratio of Muslims to their opponents was one to ten.”

Shaykh Kabbani then says, “The above verse [referring to verse 8:66] also means if…the enemy is twice the Muslim force, then there is no possibility of success and therefore at that time you must not set forth. To do so will create nothing but fitnah — a state of hostility and turmoil” (p.83).

Terrorists violate the Qur’anic verse above by challenging entire armies who not only outnumber them, but who also possess more advanced weapons and technology to win battles. To challenge armies in this manner is foolish and jeopardizes the lives of countless Muslims, directly and indirectly. While the minority of terrorists wage their terrorism, millions of innocent people, Muslim and non-Muslim, suffer death, discrimination, and hatred.

Militants Violate Agreements 

Militants violate sacred agreements as the 9/11 hijackers violated their visas which are seen as agreements from a Sunni perspective.  Contemporary Sunni scholar,  Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, says,

When one lives in a particular country, one agrees verbally, in writing or effectively to adhere to the rules and regulations of that country. This, according to the Shariah, is considered to be a promise, agreement and trust. One is obliged to fulfil the trust regardless of whether it is contracted with a friend, enemy, Muslim, non-Muslim or a government. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) always stood by their word and did not breach any trust or agreement, as it is clear from the books of Sunnah and history. Thus, to break a promise or breach a trust of even a non-Muslim is absolutely unlawful and considered a sign of being a hypocrite (munafiq).

Shaykh al-Kawthari then supports his views using specific verses from the Qur’an:

“And fulfil (every) engagement (ahd), for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the day of reckoning)” (Surah al-Isra, v. 34).

“Allah does command you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due, and when you judge between people that you judge with justice” (Surah al-Nisa, v. 58).

Shaykh al-Kawthari then says, “And regarding the one who breaks an agreement and is guilty of treachery, Allah Almighty says”:

 “Allah loves not the treacherous” (Surah al-Anfal, v. 58).

He then quotes several sayings of Prophet Muhammad, including the following:

Sayyiduna Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The signs of a hypocrite are three: When he speaks he lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he is given a trust he breaches it” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 33).

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Amr (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Four traits, if found in an individual, then he will be a complete hypocrite (munafiq), and if an individual possesses one of these four, he will have one portion of nifaq: When he is given a trust he breaches it, when he speaks he lies, when he makes an agreement (ahd) he is guilty of treachery and disloyalty (gadar), and when he disputes he is fouled mouth” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 34).

The acts of militants are in direct contradiction to what the Qur’an states and what Prophet Muhammad said.

How Militants Manipulate the Islamic Sources to “Justify” the Killing of non-Muslims

Militants misinterpret and abuse the genuine meaning of evidence from the Islamic sources to justify their violence. Sunni scholar, Shaykh Faraz Khan, explains the context and correct meaning of the following hadith:

“I was ordered to fight people until they bear witness that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; establish the ritual prayer; and pay almsgiving. So if they do that, their lives and wealth are safe from me, except for a right recognized in Islam. Their accounting, however, will be with Allah.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

Shaykh Faraz says:

“Unfortunately, this text is often grossly misinterpreted as calling for continuous “holy war” against all non-Muslims until and unless they become Muslim. But examination of context and scholarly interpretation reveals that the hadith by no means refers to all people and is not calling for any sort of war, holy or unholy. The key to understanding the hadith, then, is to understand who exactly is meant by the word ‘people’ in the statement, ‘I was ordered to fight people.’

“This same hadith has various narrations as recorded by different hadith scholars. Imam Nasa’i’s narration reads: ‘I was ordered to fight the polytheists’ rather than the word ‘people,’ and it is an established principle in hadith methodology that various narrations of the same hadith serve to clarify its actual meaning. Hence, the narration of Imam Nasa’i indicates that the word ‘people’ in the first narration does not refer to all people, but rather a specific group of people, namely, certain polytheists. This understanding is confirmed by both the Qur’an and the Sunna, as many incidents in the life of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] clearly show that all of humanity was not intended in the hadith.

“This understanding is also confirmed by our codified legal tradition, which is a reflection of the Qur’an and Sunna. Imam Abu Hanifa and his legal school limited this hadith to only the polytheists among the Arabs. And Imam Malik and his legal school limited it to only the Quraysh tribe among them. [Ibn Battal, Sharh al-Bukhari] (bolded by blog’s author)

“That is to say, according to both schools of law, all non-Arabs are excluded from the hadith – whether polytheists, atheists, Jews, Christians, or otherwise. Among the Arabs, any group that does not worship idols are also excluded, whether Jews, Christians, Magians, or otherwise. Only Arab polytheists – or perhaps just the tribe of Quraysh among them – were being addressed by the Messenger [peace and blessings be upon him]. Incidentally, the Hanafi and Maliki schools historically and up to today have constituted the vast majority of the Muslim world.

“Imam Kasani, the eminent 6th-century Hanafi jurist, explains that the reasoning of this position is based on the difference between Arab polytheists and all other peoples, including People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians, Arab or non-Arab] and non-Arab polytheists. With respect to peoples other than Arab polytheists, it is hoped that by mutual coexistence between them and Muslims, they will be drawn to Islam after reflecting over the beauty of the religion and its Sacred Law [shari’a]. [f: And that hope is sufficient; whether they become Muslim or not is irrelevant to the Hanafi and Maliki perspective that they are not addressed by the hadith.]

The nature of Arab polytheists, however, was to reject anything that conflicted with their customs and traditions, deeming all else to be madness and worthy of scornful ridicule. They were a people – as repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an – that refused to reflect over anything but ‘the ways of their forefathers.’ Therefore, because the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] was from their same tribe and knew them intimately, he gave them no option but acceptance of Islam or fighting [f: And this statement, of course, was after years of being oppressed by those Arab polytheists]. [Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i].”

Similarly, Shaykh Muhammad al-Akiti says in his Fatwa (p.31),

“As for the meaning of ‘people’ [al-nās] in the above well-related Ḥadīth, it is confirmed by Ijmāʿ that it refers to the same ‘mushrikīn’ as in the Verse of Sūra al-Tawba above, and therefore what is meant there is only the Jāhilī Arabs [mushrikū l-ʿarab] during the closing days of the Final Messenger and the early years of the Righteous Caliphs and not even to any other non-Muslims” (bolded by blogger). 

The “Verse of Sūra al-Tawba” is described by some as the “Verse of the Sword” — 9:5 — discussed in the next section below.

The “Verse of the Sword” (9:5)

Verse 9:5 in the Qur’an states:

“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Some militants use verse 9:5 to ‘justify’ killing non-Muslims and Islamophobes believe them. Shaykh Faraz Khan refutes this understanding from scholars of Sunni tradition and says,

“…the Verse of the Sword deals specifically with the situation of Meccan polytheists breaking peace treaties and openly declaring war on the Muslim polity. The verse, then, commands the Muslim state to take up arms and defend itself against those that breached their covenants and attacked out of treachery.

“This explanation is confirmed by the most reliable Imams of Qur’anic exegesis [tafsir], including Imam Razi, Imam Jamal, Imam Zamakhshari, Imam Baydawi, Imam Nasafi, Imam Biqa`i, and others.

[Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb; Jamal, Hashiyat al-Jalalayn; Zamakhshari, Kashshaf; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Nasafi, Madeira al-Tanzil; Biqa`i, Nadhm al-Durar]

“The verse, therefore, can by no means be generalized to refer to all disbelievers. Such an interpretation is not confirmed by scholars of Qur’anic interpretation. It would be both contrary to the intent of the verses as well as disastrous for the security of both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens and nation-states.”

The defense above must be taken in context. While militants sometimes use verse 9:5 to “justify” their terrorism, a July 2012 study by Jeffry R. Halverson and other authors — “How Extremists Quote the Quran” — by the  Center for Strategic Communication (Arizona State University), states that militants often do not use verse 9:5. This is in spite of frequent Islamophobic assertions against Muslims that this verse is to blame for the actions of terrorists. The study examined the most frequently cited or quoted verses in the Qur’an from over 2,000 extremist texts from 1998 to 2011 in the Center for Strategic Communication’s database, and concluded:

“…verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.”

The study, commenting on the “near absence” of verse 9:5 in the texts of extremists, states:

“Other findings in the report raise questions about the veracity of claims often made by analysts. The most surprising is the near absence of the well-known “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) from the extremist texts. Widely regarded as the most militant or violent passage of the Qur’an, it is treated as a divine call for offensive warfare on a global scale. It is also regarded as a verse which supersedes over one hundred other verses of the Qur’an that counsel patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.”

Based on the analysis, the authors conclude:

“…that verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. This shows close integration with the rhetorical vision of Islamist extremists.

Based on this analysis we recommend that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists”  (bolded by blog’s author)

Militants do not follow Sunni tradition in their understanding of verse 9:5, even if some of them, and many more Islamophobes, claim otherwise.

The Varieties of “Jihad” Today

It is interesting to note how the neo-conservatives and other Islamophobes supported an offensive – pre-emptive – war against Iraq under flawed pretexts, which killed more people than all of the offensive jihads in Islam’s history. Like the militants they condemn, they also bipolarize the world into good and evil. Related to this matter, the issue of the division of the world divided into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr is important to understand.

The Bipolar View of “Jihadists” and Neo-conservatives

“Muslim” terrorists today do not have a sophisticated understanding of the Sunni categorization of the world and the political and related factors associated with it. Ironically and contrary to Sunni tradition, terrorists dichotomize the world simplistically just as neoconservatives do.

Indeed, the division of the world is not allegedly unique to Islam, or religion, in general.  Price says,

“…the division of the world into an in-group and an out-group…is not unique to religion, as it is also a characteristic of groups involved in ethnic conflict and secular conflicts.”[[23]]

“Religion’s dichotomizing tendency,”he continues, “was certainly present in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, competing economic systems, capitalism, and communism, not faiths, were the ideological forces that stoked a 45-year global conflict that led to the brink of nuclear war with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the division of Europe into competing blocs, and wars by proxy throughout the developing world.”[[24]]  The analogy of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufrcan be applied to both opposing sides in the Cold War.

Similarly, scholar, author, and ex-CIA officer Graham Fuller says,

“Jihad in its more modern usage has been applied to many quite secular tasks, just as the term ‘crusade’ in English is casually applied to fighting crime or a campaign against drugs”[[25]]

Neo-conservative Islamophobes paradoxically counter Islamist ideology from an ideological perspective of their own that, some would argue, is just as extreme, and which has outlived its perceived usefulness. Their view of themselves as “good” and the Soviet Empire as “evil” (and now all Islamists as “evil”) illustrates the division of the world as two opposite extremes, similar to the views of the “jihadis” they claim to oppose.

Summary Overview

As discussed in this section, the Islamophobes and their partners — the “Muslim” terrorists — are oblivious to the differences between classical jihad and today’s terrorism, which is incorrectly described as “jihad.”They fail to note the differences between the geo-political environments in classical Islam’s time and contemporary times, omit the details of jihad and the differences with today’s so-called “jihad” by radicals, and conflate both.

Sunni tradition is not upheld by radicals, but ridiculed, marginalized, and selectively used to deceptively portray loyalty to the tradition. Islamophobes and “Muslim” terrorists are unable to distinguish between the peaceful majority of Muslims and the violent minority that claims to act in Islam’s name. Their understanding also reflects a Muslim-versus-non-Muslim conflict, whereas Muslims have battled each other and allied with non-Muslims in past and present conflicts.

[[1]] Ahmed Al-Dawoody. The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. pg.78.

[[2]] Qamar-ul Huda. Crescent and Dove: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2010..p.48

[[3]] Joseph E. B. Lumbard. (ed.) Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom, 2009. pg.34.

[[4]] Mustafa Akyol. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2011. p.65.

[[5]] Ira M. Lapidus. A History of Islamic Societies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p. 43.

[[6]] Thomas Arnold. The Spread of Islam in the World A History of Peaceful Preaching. S.l.: Goodword Books, 2001. pg.46.

[[7]] Marshall G.S. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization The Classical Age of Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. pg.199

[[8]] J. Lumbard.  op. cit., p. 33

[[9]] Zaid Shakir, “Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare,” New Islamic Directions, 2008, accessed May 27, 2013,

The original article can be read in  Shakir, Zaid. Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim: An Anthology of Essays. Hayward, Calif.: Zaytuna Institute, 2005. pp.121-141.

[[10]] Ian, Almond. Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009. pp.1-2.

[[11]] M. Akyol, op. cit., p. 67.

[[12]] J. Lumbard.  op. cit., p. 22.

[[13]] Muḥammad Tahir ul-Qadri. Fatwa on Suicide Bombings and Terrorism. London: Minhaj-ul-Quran International, 2010. p. 154.

[[14]] Ibid., p.163.

[[15]] Ibid., p.164.

[[16]] Joas Wagemakers, “Reclaiming Scholarly Authority: Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s Critique of Jihadi Practices,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34(7) (2011): 523-539.

[[17]] This is an authentic hadith related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Habban, and others. For an explanation of the hadith, see Faraz, Rabbani, “Is the hadith: ‘The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets’ authentic? If so, what does it mean?” Seeker’s Guidance, March 15, 2011, accessed May 22, 2013,

[[18]] Sahih Bukhari: Vol.2, Book 26, No. 594.

[[19]] M. ul-Qadri, op. cit., pp. 101-102.

[[20]] Q. Huda, op. cit.,p. 47.

[[21]] M. ul-Qadri, op. cit., p.101.

[[22]] Ibid., p.100.

[[23]] Daniel E. Price. Sacred Terror: How Faith Becomes Lethal. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2012. p.29.

[[24]] Ibid., p.28.

[[25]] G. Fuller, op. cit.,p.275.

– Does Classical Sunni Islam Support Terrorism?

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Does Islam Teach Terrorism?

There is no specific verse in the Qur’an that supports the basic and commonly understood definition of terrorism, i.e. the threatening or killing of civilians to make a political point. There is no command in the Qur’an to threaten or kill civilians for any reason. Rather, the Qur’an’s verses of “violence” have been historically understood by mainstream Sunni jurists to refer to combative jihad, which is a war of armies against armies with its many conditions and limitations. Combative jihad is very similar to Christian “Just War” and has parallels with today’s laws of war.

Finding “violent” verses in the Qur’an and any scripture is insufficient to support the claim that the specific scriptures support terrorism because all violence is not synonymous with terrorism. For purposes of comparison, while the Old Testament has verses commanding the destruction of entire villages, including civilians, it is still insufficient to conclude from such verses that the Old Testament teaches or supports terrorism. The causes of terrorism go beyond linear relationships of scripture and terrorist acts, and include a combination of political, social, and psychological factors. Any “experts” who simplify the more complex subject of terrorism by solely or mainly attributing terrorism’s cause to any religion, or any single factor, are guilty of ignorance or intentional promotion of personal agendas against honest and sound understanding.

Muslim Jurists Oppose Terrorism

In addition to the fact that the Qur’an does not support terrorism, the views of Muslim jurists against terrorism further substantiate this understanding. Classical religious jurists would not have labeled terrorist actions as violations of Islamic Law, would not have prescribed severe punishments for those crimes, and would have commanded rather than opposed the killing of innocent civilians had they supported terrorism. The following sections discuss the equivalents of modern day terrorism to terms and acts describing such actions in classical and contemporary Sunni tradition. It is imperative to note that those most critical of Islam refuse to discuss Islam’s view of terrorism. For the minority of jurists that support, for example, suicide bombings, they are from modernist-salafi groups that do not represent classical Sunni Islam.

Hirabah, Muharib, and Muharibun/Hirabiyyun  – Terrorism, Terrorist, and Terrorists

Hirabah in classical Sunni tradition is broadly defined as the spreading of corruption and terror in the Islamic community, though the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali) have specific differences in its nuances. Professor and author, Abdul Hakim Jackson, quotes some classical Sunni scholars to provide a more detailed understanding of hirabah:

“The Spanish Maliki jurist Ibn `Abd al-Barr (d.463/1070) defines the agent of hirabah as ‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty of hirabah…be he a Muslim or non-Muslim, free or slave, and whether he actually realizes his goal of taking money or killing or not.’”

“The Hanafi jurist, al-Kasani (d.587/1191) defines hirabah (or qat al-tariq) as ‘attacks upon pedestrians for the purpose of taking money by force and in such a way that people are rendered unable to pass freely through the streets…’”

Imam Nawawi (d.676/1277) states that, ‘Whoever brandishes a weapon and terrorizes the streets (akhafa al-sabil) inside or outside a city must be pursued by the authorities (al-Imam), because if they are left unmolested their power will increase and through their killing and taking money and corruption will spread.’”

Ibn Qudamah (d.620/1223) defines hirabah as ‘the act of openly holding people up in the desert with weapons in order to take their money.’ He notes, however, that many of his fellow Hanbalites held that such wanton brigandage constituted hirabah whenever it occurred, ‘because it is even more frightening and detrimental inside cities”[[1]] (names bolded by writer).

Ahmed Al-Dawoody in The Islamic Law of War (p.171) says that Sunni “jurists commonly agree on the following main characteristics of the perpetrators of this crime” as:

“a group of Muslims who under the threat, or use, of arms attack or merely intimidate or terrorize their victims in order to overtly and forcefully rob, kill or merely terrorize their victims.”

Al-Dawoody then explains the differences among the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence in their understanding of hirabah. The Hanafis

“focused on on the taking of money by force as the usual objective of this crime and the fact that it causes people to feel intimidated about using roads where highway men are active. This focus may be the result of Abu Hanifah’s restricting the application of the law of hirabah to certain crimes committed in the desert or in unpopulated areas…”

Regarding jurists from the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools, they

“emphasize the element of the criminals’ use of arms — Hanbalis add even a stick or a stone — mujaharah (overtly, openly, unlike thieves and other criminals). This shows a sort of mukabarah, a determination on the part of the criminals to challenge the state authorities” (pp. 171-172).

The Maliki jurists

“explicitly emphasize the importance of the element of spreading terror among the victims as a principal intention behind this crime, even, these Maliki jurists add, if the criminals do not intend to rob their victims…. Interestingly, the Maliki jurists include under the law of hirabah the crimes of killing by stealth, poisoning, and armed burglary, because the victims are helpless” (p.172).

The Sunni punishment for people who commit the crime of hirabah – who spread disorder and corruption in the land – is severe, as stated in the Qur’an:

“The punishments of those who wage war (yuharibun) against Allah and His Prophet and strive to spread disorder (fasad) in the land are to execute them in an exemplary way or to crucify them or to amputate their hands and feet from opposite sides or to banish them from the land. Such is their disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom save those who repent before you overpower them; you should know that Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Ever Merciful.” (5:33-34)

The discussion of terrorism in Sunni Islam is not only confined to hirabah. Rather, Sunni jurists differ on the more precise understanding of terrorism according to Sunni Islam, as explained below.

Irhab, Irhabi, and Irahabiyyun – Terrorism, Terrorist, and Terrorists

While some scholars find hirabah to be the closest in meaning to how terrorism is generally understood today, other scholars recommend other possible terms. For example, analyst Douglas Streusand says, “[A] potentially useful word is irhab, the Arabic word for terrorism,” rendering irhabi “the literal translation of ‘terrorist.’” He says this in the context of rejecting the words jihad, jihadi, and mujahidun to describe terrorism and terrorists:

“[D]escribing [our enemies]…as jihadis or mujahidun not only validates their claim to legitimacy, but also implies that we consider Islam itself our enemy.”[[2]]

Irjaf, Irjafi, and Irajafiyyn/MurjifunA Better Translation of Terrorism, Terrorist, and Terrorists

However, according to Shaykh Ali Goma’a, the Mufti of Egypt, describing terrorism and terrorists as irhab and irhabi are “mistaken translations and a strategic error.”[[3]] The reason why, author Waleed El-Ansary explains, is because

“The classical usages and meanings of the root from which irhabi derives, rahiba, are overwhelmingly positive, for the Qur’an employs this root to refer to the fear of God (‘the beginning of wisdom’ in the Abrahamic traditions) or holding God in awe.”

Osama bin Laden had used the word irhab himself, thus

“exploiting the difference between classical and modern usages to argue for the possibility of commendable rather than reprehensible terrorism.”[[4]]

To separate Bin Laden’s distorted usage of a term rooted in the Qur’an to justify his unIslamic actions, Mufti Goma’a suggests the term irjaf, “which denotes subversion and scaremongering to bring quaking and commotion to society” and “is derived from the root rajafa, which means to quake, tremble, be in violent motion, convulse, or shake.”[[5]]

Mufti Goma’a’s recommendation of using irjaf as a more appropriate translation of the word terrorism is, El-Ansary explains, because

“From a linguistic perspective, he points out that the term unambiguously connotes the cowardice, deceit, and betrayal associated with terrorism in striking from the back, unlike hirabah. The grand mufti’s discussion of the usage of murjifun not only deflates bin Laden’s pompous and grandiose ideology, but reduces him from monk to criminal. Moreover, irjaf is clearly distinguished from conventional warfare, harb, since the murjifun (or irjafiyyun) do not constitute a legal entity, whereas their target does.”[[6]]

El-Ansary continues,

“The legal sanction for irjaf is also much clearer than hirabah, for the punishment – execution – is unambiguous. Finally, from a practical point of view, it is far more difficult for bin Laden and al-Qaeda members to argue that they do not cause commotion within cities, and that their critics attempting to prevent such violence do. The term irjaf thereby effectively eliminates the possibility of extremists turning the tables on their critics.”[[7]]

The Khawarij as Murjifun/Irjafiyyun and Today’s al-Qa’eda

It is interesting to note that Mufti Goma’a describes the early Khawarij in Islam who rebelled against the Companions of Prophet Muhammad as murjifun/irjafiyyun.[[8]]

Pakistani scholar Shaykh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who authored the well-known Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, also described the Khawarij as the first terrorists in Islam, saying that al-Qaeda and other militants[9] carry the Khawarij banner today. According to Shaykh ul-Qadri in his comprehensive Fatwa, classical Sunni scholars are divided into two groups in their verdict of the Khawarij. The first group of scholars impugns them with disbelief. The second group impugns them with sin, though not with disbelief. Both groups, however, are in general agreement that the Khawarij should be fought for their extreme actions. Of greater interest is the first group to illustrate that the Khawarij, like al-Qa’eda and other militants today, were seen as disbelievers by prominent classical Sunni scholars.

Classical Sunni Scholars Who Accused the Khawarij of Disbelief

Some classical Sunni scholars who accused the Khawarij of disbelief are Imam al-Bukhari,[[10]] Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali,[[11]] Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabari,[[12]]Al-Qadi `Iyad,[[13]] Imam al-Qurtubi,[[14]] Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki,[[15]] Imam Ibn Ishaq al-Shatibi,[[16]] Imam Badr al-Din al-`Ayni,[[17]] and Mulla `Ali al-Qari.[[18]] Below are examples of the positions of Imam al-Bukhari and Imam al-Ghazali.

Imam Bukhari

Of the famous scholar of hadith, Imam al-Bukhari, well known Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani said,

“A large body of scholars said that the Kharijites are to be charged with disbelief, such as al-Bukhari, who compared them to apostates and heretics, and only singled out individuals [amongst them] who were subject to faulty interpretations, mentioning them in a separate chapter: ‘On the One Who Refrains from Fighting the Kharijites for the Sake of Drawing Hearts Near and so People Will Not Flee.”[[19]]

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

Of the famous Sunni scholar and Sufi, al-Ghazali, Ibn Hajar said:

“In al-Wasit, al-Ghazal said (following others): There are two opinions regarding the judgment on Kharijites: ‘They take the ruling of apostates or the ruling of rebels,’ and al-Rafi’i declared the first view preponderant.”[[20]]

Had those classical Muslim scholars been alive today, they would certainly have opposed al-Qa’eda and similar militant groups and accused them of disbelief due to the similarity of their actions with past actions of the Khawarij. This contradicts the claims of both Islamophobes and “Muslim” militants who claim that militants represent the continuation of the classical Sunni tradition. Rather, classical Sunni scholars repudiate terrorists in the strongest terms possible, with many accusing them of disbelief. As discussed, execution is the punishment of terrorists according to Islamic Law.

Unfortunately extremists of all colors seem unaware of hirabah, irhab, and irjaf, and how they differ with classical Sunni jihad. They erroneously conflate all words as if they mean the same and compromise an accurate understanding of today’s actions by militants and of the understanding of classical Sunni jurists of the past.

Muslims Condemn Terrorism

The above also opposes the erroneous understanding that Muslims do not speak out against terrorism. Muslims have been speaking out against terrorism for the past 1,000-plus years, and their condemnations of terrorism continue. More contemporary views against terrorism by Muslims can be found in A Common Word Between Us and You [[21]], The Amman Message [[22]], the Fatwa Against al-Qa’eda by the Islamic Commission of Spain [[23]], the Fatwa against terrorism by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti [[24]], the Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings by Shaykh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri (as discussed earlier),[[25]] and many other denunciations of terrorism by influential Muslims (click A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H. [[26]]).

[[1]] Sherman Jackson, “Domestic Terrorism in the Islamic Legal Tradition,” The Muslim World 91 (Fall 2001): 293-310, accessed May 19, 2013,

[[2]] Qamar-ul Huda. Crescent and Dove: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2010. p. 64.

[[3]] Ibid., p. 65.

[[4]] Ibid., p. 65.

[[5]] Ibid., p. 67.

[[6]] Ibid., p. 68.

[[7]] Ibid., p. 68.

[[8]] Ibid., p. 68.

[[10]] Muḥammad Tahir ul-Qadri. Fatwa on Suicide Bombings and Terrorism. London: Minhaj-ul-Quran International, 2010. p. 358.

[[11]] Ibid., p. 360.

[[12]] Ibid., p. 358.

[[13]] Ibid., p. 361.

[[14]] Ibid., p. 363.

[[15]] Ibid., p. 366.

[[16]] Ibid., p. 367.

[[17]] Ibid., p. 370.

[[18]] Ibid., p. 371.

[[19]] Ibid., p. 358.

[[20]] Ibid., p. 360.

[[21]] A Common World Between You and Us, October 13, 2007, accessed May 29, 2013,

[[22]] The Amman Message, July 2005, accessed May 19, 2013,

[[23]] “Fatua Contra el Terrorismo,” Comision Islamica de Espana, October 3, 2005, accessed May 29, 2013, (English translation available,

[[24]] Shaykh Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti, Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians (Germany: Warda Publications), accessed May 23, 2013,

[[25]] Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings (London: Minhaj-ul-Quran International), accessed May 22, 2013,

[[26]] See, for example, the list of denunciations of terrorism by influential Muslims and organizations at Charles, Kurzman, “Islamic Statements Against Terrorism,” accessed June 2, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Muslim Voices – Part I – Fatwas & Statements by Muslim Scholars & Organisations – updated,” The American Muslim, updated January 28, 2012, accessed May 17, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Power Point Presentations on Islam and Muslims,” The American Muslim, updated July 1, 2007, accessed May 17, 2013,,Sheila, Musaji, “Muslim Voices Promoting Islamic Non Violent Solutions,” The American Muslim, updated June 6, 2011, accessed May 17, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism – Part IV A few Quotes A-K,” The American Muslim, December 13, 2006, accessed May 17, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism – A few Quotes L-Z,” The American Muslim, December 7, 2006, accessed May 17, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Muslims & Arabs in the U.S. Military – article collection,” The American Muslim, updated March 22, 2008, accessed May 17, 2013,, Sheila, Musaji, “Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism,” The American Muslim, December 9, 2006, accessed May 17, 2013,

– Combating with Wrong Intentions is Sinful.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

Militants should be warned. Their fight is not an “Islamic” one because they violate conditions of a valid jihad in Islam. Even if conditions were valid (though they are not) their anger, spite, and arrogance that they prioritize over Islam in their words and actions is opposed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the man they claim to emulate. A hadith says:

A man came to the Prophet and asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What kind of fighting is in Allah’s cause? (I ask this), for some of us fight because of being enraged and angry and some for the sake of his pride and haughtiness.” The Prophet raised his head (as the questioner was standing) and said, “He who fights so that Allah’s Word (Islam) should be superior, then he fights in Allah’s cause.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 125)

Another hadith states:

A man came to the Prophet and asked, “A man fights for war booty; another fights for fame and a third fights for showing off; which of them fights in Allah’s Cause?” The Prophet said, “He who fights that Allah’s Word (i.e. Islam) should be superior, fights in Allah’s Cause.”

(Sahih al-Bukahri, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 65)

And what of those who die not for Islam or Allah, but for the pleasure of virgins in Paradise? Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that:

“a person whose intent is glory, booty (spoils), or females has no ties to God, and only God knows who strives for his sake”[“strives” refers here to the process of jihad]

(al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, No. 430)

– Muslims Fought Alongside non-Muslims in Battle.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

There is usually a simplistic and incorrect understanding that “Muslim” armies consisted only of Muslims who waged war against non-Muslims. Even worse, ignoramuses claim that it is the aim of Islam and Muslims to annihilate all non-Muslim. The Constitution of Medina accepted Jews alongside Muslims and both were considered as part of the same army.  Christians also participated alongside Muslims in jihad. Dadake says that:

…traditional Islamic histories give accounts of Christians taking part in some of the early battles alongside the Muslim armies. This is discussed by Fred Donner in his book The Early Islamic Conquests. He notes that, according to Muslim historical sources, in the very early period of jihad, Christian Arabs from tribes such as the Banu Tayyi of Najd, the Banu al-Namir ibn Qasit of the upper Euphrates river valley, and the Banu Lakhm participated in the jihad with the Muslim armies.[1]

Other examples include, “a treaty signed during the reign of the caliph `Umar by Suraqah ibn `Amr in 22 A.H./642 C.E.” Dadke asserts that “Suraqah was a commander of Muslim forces in Armenia, which was predominantly Christian” and that Christians had joined the Muslim army as an alternative to paying the poll tax.[2] This example contradicts Islamophobes and others who claim that refusal by Christians and Jews to accept Islam and pay the poll tax would result in wholesale war against them. Rather, the Christians in this example were not targeted, but rather fought alongside the Muslim army, and this is not the only example.

Dakake gives more examples of Christians joining the Muslim jihad. “Such is the case of Jarajimah, a Christian people from the town of Jurjumah.[3] This town had been under the control of the patrician and governor of Antioch but surrendered to the Muslim armies, commanded by Habib ibn Maslamah al-Fihri, when they attacked the town.” Dadake quotes Baladhuri:

“Terms were made providing that al-Jarajimah would act as helpers to the Moslems, and as spies and frontier garrison in Mount al-Lukam. On the other hand it was stipulated that they pay no tax, and that they keep for themselves the booty they take from the enemy in case they fight with the Moslems.”[4]

A similar agreement with Al-Jarajimah was made in the reign of the Ummayad Caliph al-Walid ibn `Abd al-Malik (86-96 A.H. / 705-715 C.E.).[5]

The above illustrates that early Muslims did not hesitate to have non-Muslims join their armies. It was not necessarily and exclusively a Muslim versus non-Muslim affair. As stated, non-Muslims would also help Muslims as “spies” and “frontier garrison”!  Moreover, non-Muslims were given alternative options other than to convert and pay the poll-tax. They kept their religion, their houses of worship, and were still permitted to join the Muslim army. Al-Qa’eda and other militants would never think for a second to imitate the way of the early Muslims in battle. Rather, they would take all Christians and Jews hostage, use them as bargaining chips, and often behead them.

[1] Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (Revised and Expanded). Page.22. Dakake cites: Fred M. Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p.200.

[2] Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (Revised and Expanded). Page.22.

[3] Dakake states that “Jurjumah was located in the border region between modern-day Syria and Turkey.” (footnote #80, Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (Revised and Expanded), pg. 37.

[4] Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (Revised and Expanded). Page.23. Dadake cities: Baladhuri, Origins, vol.1, p.246.